Saturday, 31 December 2005

All's Well That Ends Well

From The Immortal Bard :
LAFEU: I may truly say, it is a novelty to the world.

PAROLLES: It is, indeed: if you will have it in showing, you
shall read it in--what do you call there?

LAFEU: A showing of a heavenly effect in an earthly actor.

PAROLLES: That's it; I would have said the very same.

LAFEU: Why, your dolphin is not lustier: 'fore me,
I speak in respect--

PAROLLES: Nay, 'tis strange, 'tis very strange, that is the
brief and the tedious of it; and he's of a most
facinerious spirit that will not acknowledge it to be the--

LAFEU: Very hand of heaven.

PAROLLES: Ay, so I say.


A Novelty to the world, indeed.

First noted at Normblog , but appearing on others (Cumudgeon's Corner, Eternal Golden Braid), from Ynet News :
An unusual wedding ceremony was held in the southern resort town of Eilat on Wednesday, as Sharon Tendler, a 41-years-old Jewish millionaire from London married her beloved Cindy, a 35-years-old dolphin, Israel's leading newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported Thursday.

The groom, a resident of the Eilat dolphin reef, met Tendler 15 years ago, when she first visited the resort. The British rock concert producer took a liking to the dolphin and has made a habit of traveling to Eilat two or three times a year and spending time with her underwater sweetheart.

"The peace and tranquility underwater, and his love, would calm me down," the excited bride said after the wedding.

After a years-long romance, Tendler decided to embark on the highly unusual path of tying the knot with her beloved dolphin. Last week, she approached Cindy's trainer Maya Zilber with the extraordinary request.

Zilber accepted the challenge and "talked the idea over with the fellow," who apparently consented.

And so on Wednesday afternoon, the thrilled bride, wearing a white dress, walked down the dock before hundreds of astounded visitors and kneeled down before her groom, who was waiting in the water.

Cindy, escorted by his fellow best-men dolphins, swam over to Tendler and she hugged him, whispered sweet nothings in his ear, and kissed him in front of the cheering crowd.

After the ceremony was sealed with some mackerels, Tendler was tossed into the water by her friends so that she could swim with her new husband.

"I'm the happiest girl on earth," the bride said as she chocked back tears of emotion. "I made a dream come true, and I am not a pervert," she stressed.
She may not be, but what about him?

When Shakespeare talked about "lust" in respect to Dolphins, he wasn't using it in the Germanic context of "Enthusiasm", as in the German "Ich habe kein lust mehr" - I have no desire/enthusiasm for it. In Shakespearean times, the Dolphin was a common symbol for, well, Lust (and rightly so). The double-entendre is one of many sometimes quite filthy "dirty jokes" in Shakespeare's works that have gotten lost in the translation over the years. Hamlet's "Get Thee to a Nunnery" loses a lot unless you realise that "Nunnery" was an Elizabethan slang term for a whorehouse, in addition to it's, er, Convent-ional meaning.

Dolphins, like Bonibo chimps, and H.Sap, use Sex as a means of socialisation as much as procreation, it's their way of "making friends". Gang Rape is sometimes practiced too, as many a young female Bonibo Chimp, Bottlenose Dolphin, or human has found out to her cost. Anyone who has swum a lot with Dolphins is bound to have had certain advances made to them, by both males and females. They appear to be naturally Bi. Also, their primary sense is Sonar - in the water they can "see" our internal layout, our organs, and recognise what sex humans are, even when the human is in a wetsuit.

From a 2002 CNN article :
Swimmers are being warned to stay away from a "sexually aggressive" dolphin that has made its home at a popular tourist resort on the English south coast.

Georges the male bottlenose has become a tourist attraction since arriving in Weymouth harbour, Dorset, in April. Thousands of people have gone out in boats to watch him and swim with him.

But the 10-year-old, 400 lbs (180 kg), dolphin became the cause for concern last month when his behaviour suddenly became erratic.

He appeared to be trying to harm himself by swimming into boats' propellers and began showing an unhealthy interest in divers.
"Unhealthy Interest" - what a peculiarly English way of putting it. But they didn't make a big deal about him being a French dolphin, which is a surprise. Or perhaps not, all things French have a certain reputation in the UK. It's taken as read. They're Facinerious too.

I've written about the nature of Intelligence, and the Ethical Treatment of Animals before. My conclusion then, as now, is that Dolphins aren't nearly as bright as they're popularly supposed to be. "Provisonally people" at best, and I'd put Chimps of both Forest and Bonibo varieties well ahead of them, along with Gorillas somewhat further back, then certain species of Parrot.

From an ethical as opposed to a moral viewpoint, a Chimp is certainly able to give "informed consent" providing there's no "power relationship". A Gorilla, maybe. A Dolphin? The trouble is, that they think so differently from ourselves in most respects. But not in the matter of Sex. Ethically, at worst dubious, from a "Man from Mars" viewpoint.

Two adults, one a person (though how sane she is is another matter), one a "provisional person", who have known each other for years, take pleasure in each others' company, where no question of procreation is involved.... despite an irrational feeling that it's terribly, terribly wrong, I am forced most reluctantly to admit that logically, I can't see anything wrong with it.

"An it harm none, do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law". And considering that she's got more money than sense, from a purely pragmatic viewpoint, the Golden Rule applies : Those that have the Gold, make the Rules.

Of course, I could be misinterpreting the situation entirely. The relationship may be entirely Platonic. The point is, there exist less formal ones of a similar nature that aren't. And there's no question of a "frustrated bridegroom", of her being a "tease", Dolphins are notoriously non-monogamous.

OK, now if you're ready... and I don't recommend it... go have a look at How to have safe consensual sex with a Dolphin..
There are various ways a dolphin has of showing that she or he is interested in sex. Males are probably the easiest to detect. They will swim around, sporting an erection (anywhere between 10 to 14 inches long for a Bottle-nose), and will have no bones about swimming up to you and placing their member within reach of your hand.
Technically incorrect : Dolphins have a pubic bone. But never mind, just me being pedantic, making light of a subject that it makes me feel extremely uncomfortable to discuss.
If you are in the water,they may rub it along any part of your body, or wrap it around your wrist or ankle. (Dolphin males have a prehensile penis. They can wrap it around objects, and carry them as such.)
Difficult to ignore when it happens to you, and it happens to everyone who has swum with Dolphins for a while. They knew that back in Shakespeare's time.

Oh well, it will be a useful precedent if we meet Aliens before the Singularity, and they turn out think anything like us. Thought at least in this mixed-marriage, they're both of Earthclan. I'm not sure what a Rabbi would say though, even a most liberal one.

Now is everybody totally grossed out? Thought so. Me too. So you're in the right frame of mind for what I'm about to say. It will seem tame in comparison.

I'm just starting the long and involved process of changing external gender to match my brain's morphology - "Transition". Clinically, my body is still ambiguous. A naturally weird hormone level (not formally diagnosed as hormonal intersex, but that's basically what it is) plus Hormone Replacement therapy has given me a normal female blood chemistry. I'm starting to have normal female secondary sex characteristics, but will retain vestigial male primary sex characteristics until these are surgically re-shaped to approximate a female norm.

At the FedSat "Do" (which I Blogged, naturally), everyone assumed that I'd already gone the full distance. A Natural enough mistake to make, I've been extraordinarily fortunate in that my Social appearance is now unmistakeably feminine, despite my early stage of transition. Most people don't realise - though they should, based on their own experiences at puberty - how long the changes take to make. An andogenous pre-pubescent girl's body does not become nubile overnight, it takes quite a few years. So how much longer would it take someone in their 40's (so with fewer cell divisions happening), and with the effects of masculinisation to reverse? Some women my age have gone for 6 years or more of hormone therapy with no obvious effect. Usually it takes at least 2 to get to where I am now, after less than 5 months of hormones.

The journey is long : and I'm still just starting.

However.... a medical examination on the 8th of June indicated the male glands were soft and shrunken: dysfunctional. And since 5th August, I've been on enough Anti-Androgens to suppress all but normal female levels of Testosterone in my system. From GIDInfo - medical research :
In other research, scientists are studying the forebrain projections that product the neuropeptite "vasopressin." The density of these projections is greater in male brains than in female brains, and their activity is known to be linked to gonadal hormone production. However, even in cases of castration it takes months for the vasopressin to clear from the neural projections. It is believed that vasopressin is partly responsible for male aggressive behavior and possibly contributes to libido. This may explain why sex offenders who are castrated do not immediately become less agressive or aroused, it may also help to explain the "shift" in sexual oriention experienced by many transsexuals usually months after they have had a bilateral orchiectomy.
About 6 months on average, in fact. For some, not all. About half.

It's not that I've ever liked men, and certainly have never been attracted to them. I always wanted a partner who could be my best friend, who could think like me. My marriage has lasted for nearly 25 years, I have a wonderful son, and my partner is still my best friend.

But certain physiological and psychological phenomena are now too obvious to deny, and believe you me, I'd really like to deny them. The timing, 5-7 months after effective castration is consistent with the Vassopressin hypothesis.

I still don't like Men, but they're starting to have an effect on me. The usual effect they have on pubescent girls. Ones who for the first time in their lives, have a Libido with a capital L. Ha Ha, Mother Nature, Very F...ing Funny.

Looks like little Ms Zoe Brain is going to end up straight, or at best(?) Bi. Oh HELL.

Friday, 30 December 2005

Send Your Name to the Asteroid Belt

On the Dawn Spacecraft :
Send your name to the asteroid belt on the Dawn spacecraft. Your name will be recorded onto a microchip that will be placed aboard the spacecraft accompanying it on its mission to the asteroid belt.

Well I think it's neat.

Thursday, 29 December 2005

Artforms

Coffee and Engineering.



Wednesday, 28 December 2005

You Read It Here First

From the Chinese People's Daily of all places (proving that someone there has their eye on the ball when it comes to things Spacey)
Australia's Department of Defense will manage the country's only fully owned and operational satellite FedSat from January next year.

Announcing the move, Australian Defense Minister Robert Hill said on Friday that Defense will manage the satellite until December 2008, extending FedSat's useful life to the scientific community by three years. It may also be possible to continue operating the satellite beyond that time.

Launched in 2002, FedSat is a small low earth orbit satellite that follows a near polar sun-synchronous orbit. It carries six payloads performing a variety of scientific and engineering research functions.

Hill said space systems have an ever-increasing benefit for Australia, including precision navigation, global communications and weather information.

"I am pleased that Defense can ensure that FedSat will continue to be of use to Australia," Hill said in a statement.

"It provides Defense with an opportunity to broaden its knowledge of spacecraft control and space experimentation," he said.

"Defense will use FedSat for a range of research and experimental activities. This could include radio propagation studies and magnetospheric observations supporting space weather science," he said.

"In addition, Defense personnel will gain valuable knowledge and skills in controlling satellites," he said.

He said Defense's management of FedSat will cost approximately 1 million Australian dollars (730,000 US dollars) over the next two years.

This is a relatively small cost compared to the expected benefits from the ongoing experimentation, according to the minister.
But regular readers of this blog would have known that already. :)

Another three years - that's reasonable. The batteries (which were always expected to be the first things to degrade) are standing up better than expected, and we'd designed it for a 5-year life anyway. Given FedSat's excellent reliability so far, yes, a 6 year life with some years of partial operation afterwards is more likely than not. It depends if the Attitude Control System holds up.

Gosh, I was a very small part of a very great team. We were Good. From the structural engineers, to the electricals, the guys who assembled it under cleanroom conditions, the test engineers, everybody. It was a fantastic privilege to work with them, to be considered their equal, everyone depending on everyone else.

A 6-year operational period really will give my error-correcting software a good test. Much of it has never been activated, as far as I'm aware, the initial layers of defence were too effective. But we may have to activate the hardware reconfiguration module I put in, and re-map the degraded mass memory to give less storage in some areas, more in others. All part of my cunning plan....

Heck, if it does hold up for that long, given the extreme radhaz it's gone through, dipping in the SMA (South Magnetic Anomaly - a high radiation zone) twice a day, the on-board computer design techniques we used would be quite good enough for a deep-space mission. Of course, there's a little problem of power, deep-space comms is tricky too, a whole new ball game... but a Mars orbiter would be a a doddle, and even an outer-planet one not beyond the realms of possibility.

Ah well, Zoe, let's see if we can get funding for a FedSat-2 first.

Tuesday, 27 December 2005

Unusual Museums of the Internet

The list includes Museums on such subjects as: And many others. Crabs. Toilet Paper. Sunbeam Mixmasters. To name but a few.

File this one under (what else) "Interesting URLs".

A Christmas Editorial

No Christmas For You!. Be warned : coarse language, and hilariously funny too.

Sunday, 25 December 2005

Christmas, Present

The Australian Air Traffic Control report on Santa's flightplan through Australian and New Zealand Airspace.

Other articles include "Increasing Reindeer Efficiency" and "High Altitude Sleigh Testing".

And a sweet Christmas Card : SnowDog

Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Joyous Newton's Birthday, or the Religious or Secular Holiday of your Choice.

Saturday, 24 December 2005

Just a small fire, really

I thought I'd turned the stove off. But the oil flashed when I was in the bathroom, and the fire brigade has just left.

I got it out - wet towel over the burning plastic dripping from the ceiling fan, dodge burning debris from the extractor hood (now well alight) cover the pan itself with a metal cover (couldn't move it, the handle was on fire), go outside, turn off electricity, go next door (phone not working) and get them to call 000 (US 911, UK 999 equivalent in Oz), go back, check and extinguish spot fires, leave burning exposed wires in fan alone, keep head low to avoid toxic fumes, leave danger area, wait perhaps 3 minutes and flag down firetruck, gasp out "Kitchen Oil Fire"...

THEN when they gave the signal it had been extinguished on arrival, collapse in a sobbing heap.

Let's see, 21:51 now, that was what, 3 hours ago.

Just phoned up the insurance company.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, 22 December 2005

An Interfaith Christmas Song

Here's one that shows my deep and abiding respect for Mission Islam, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Japanese Ultra-Nationalist organisations too numerous to mention (and who of course wouldn't lower themselves to have websites in English), and of course, the Westboro Baptist Church.

Merry ...... Christmas guys. Despite your minor doctrinal differences, it's clear that you're really all just the same, underneath.

Weird Habits

I recently got tagged my Morgan of Morgspace, with the "5 Weird Habits" meme.

The Rules :
The first player of this game starts with the topic five weird habits of yourself, and people who get tagged need to write an entry about their five weird habits as well as state this rule clearly. In the end, you need to choose the next five people to be tagged and link to their web journals. Dont forget to leave a comment in their blog or journal that says You are tagged (assuming they take comments) and tell them to read yours.


  1. I unconsciously drum my fingers a lot, usually in complex syncopated rhythms of popular tunes - even if I can't stand the tunes in question.
  2. I pace up and down, mumbling to myself (actually using the speaking->hearing loop as temporary short-term memory) when working on non-trivial technical problems.
  3. I blog late at night or in the wee small hours of the morning - when Andrew is asleep, and so doesn't want do "Play School", or "Teletubbies" games on the computer with me.
  4. I often just go out the door and watch the stars for a few minutes, to give myself a sense of proportion about things.
  5. I always leave a clean plate when eating, I can't stand to waste food.


OK, tagging others... Lloyd of It Looks Different From Here, Ninme, Norm, Wind Rider, and Tex. If he can stop chewing on Thom Lyons (actually, that could be habit #1...)

Wednesday, 21 December 2005

My Sister-In-LA

I've just contacted another woman who's in a similar situation to myself : ideopathic feminisation. Less rapidly than with me, it might be a different mechanism. But no matter. She's on the other side of the Pacific, in Los Angeles, hence the title.

And she was just as lonely and lost for information on it as I was. I've found nothing on PubMed, or anywhere else on it. the only other person it's happened to that I've been able to contact is Kathy Ann Noble, also here in Australia. 1000+ km away in Queensland, to be sure, but still relatively next door. At least the mechanism in her case is well understood, even if the cause isn't. Fortunately, unlike her, the medics didn't try to reverse what was happening. That must have been... unpleasant... for her.

I hadn't realised just how alone I felt, till I found someone else who I could relate to.

Now all we have to do is find out just what the heck is going on, how common is it (my bet is it's really under-reported), and see if we can go about gathering some useful scientific data about this, to help the next woman in this situation. Transition has been wonderful, the best thing that could possibly have happened to me, but trying to convince every new medic who reviews my case that the improbable has happened has been tedious, to say the least.

Well, on Friday last, I saw a specialist Psychiatrist for a follow-up visit. She confirmed that I'm just suffering from GID (Gender Identity Disorder), a neurological rather than psychiatric condition. This (as far as we can tell) is just a minor developmental anomaly, a female-pattern brain in a somatically male body, or the reverse. The cause is still unclear, the drug DiEthylStilboestrol (DES), an anti-abortifacient popular in the 50's, 60's, and early 70's has been implicated in many cases, but not in mine. Genetic? Environmental? A Combination? We still don't know.

Anyway, I show no signs of any psychosis that might lead to similar psychic symptoms - which is a bit of a wonder considering the ups-and-downs of my hormone levels early on. A classic, open-and-shut case, with an unusually smooth transition so far. So no roadblocks (yet) to getting full treatment. Apart from the little matter of the money. And finding the time to take the months off needed for post-surgical convalescence at some stage.

Good news. The simple diagnosis, but also finding someone else in the same boat - even if they are on the other side of the Pacific.

Monday, 19 December 2005

A Hannukah Present

For all my readers of whatever pursuasion or faith : My Menorah.

Sunday, 18 December 2005

China Firms Up Moon Plans

From Xinhua via the AP :
China will begin an effort to send astronauts to the moon in about 2017, with a landing some time after that, official media said Wednesday, citing a senior official of the lunar probe program.

The moon landing would cap a lunar program begun in 2004 with the launch of a probe. In October, China launched its second manned space flight, a successful five-day mission.

The Xinhua News Agency quoted Ouyang Ziyuan, the lunar program's chief scientist, as saying unmanned lunar probes will be ramped up in three stages until about 2017, when the manned program will begin.

The report did not indicate when a manned lunar landing might be accomplished.

According to Ouyang and other Chinese space officials, an effort to launch lunar orbiting satellites will be supplanted in 2007 by a program aimed at accomplishing an unmanned lunar landing.

A program to return unmanned space vehicles from the moon will begin in 2012 and last for five years, until the manned program gets underway, Xinhua quoted the officials as saying.
Previous posts on Chinese Lunar plans here and elsewhere. (Use the Search facilities for Moon China)

One more thing:
The cost of the program is low by Western standards, and Chinese leaders frequently point out that space technology has numerous spinoffs for aeronautics and other high technology industries.
Australian Government officials please copy.

Best of the Weeks Blogreading

I've been too busy to blog on a number of subjects I wanted to, but others have done a far better job of it than I could anyway.

The Death of William Proxmire from Cumudgeon's Corner :
It may seem a little extreme to suggest that the world would have been better off had Proxmire never lived, but it is irrefutable that it would have been a better place had he not been a Senator.
I don't think it's extreme at all. This blog is a must for anybody interested in Space issues.

The 10 Worst Jobs in Science from Entirely Madd. No 3 : Kansas Biology Teacher. Matt's blog is full of quirky stories with a Scientific bent.

A Discussion on Capital Punishment over at It Looks Different From Here. Lloyd is particularly good at writing long Op-Ed pieces with rigorous reasoning to back them up.

The Creator of Iraq by Ninme provides a fascinating glimpse of little-known history. The only problem with Ninme's blog is her amazingly prolific output: a blog you should read every day or you'll miss a lot.

A Chrsitmas Story from the ambulance blogger of London, at Random Acts of Reality. Some people face matters of Life and Death every day, and it shows.

How did we ever manage before blogs?

Iran and Nukes : Is it OK to Panic Now?

from Charles Krauthammer :
The wild pronouncements of the new Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have gotten sporadic press ever since he called for Israel to be wiped off the map. He subsequently amended himself to say that Israel should simply be extirpated from the Middle East map and moved to some German or Austrian province. Perhaps near the site of an old extermination camp?

Except that there were no such camps, indeed no Holocaust at all, says Ahmadinejad. Nothing but "myth," a "legend" that was "fabricated . . . under the name 'Massacre of the Jews.' "
Of course "Holocaust Denial" is such a pervasive lunacy that we've become a bit blase abaout it. I mean, only raving nutters could deny obvious facts, right? No one who actually has any power. No one who matters.
To be sure, Holocaust denial and calls for Israel's destruction are commonplace in the Middle East. They can be seen every day on Hezbollah TV, in Syrian media, in Egyptian editorials appearing in semiofficial newspapers. But none of these aspiring mass murderers are on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons that could do in one afternoon what it took Hitler six years to do: destroy an entire Jewish civilization and extinguish 6 million souls.

Everyone knows where Iran's nuclear weapons will be aimed. Everyone knows they will be put on Shahab rockets, which have been modified so that they can reach Israel. And everyone knows that if the button is ever pushed, it will be the end of Israel.
And as mentioned in a previous post, protestations that the Shahab-3 is "purely for defensive purposes" ring just a bit hollow when they're paraded draped with banners reading Israel should be wiped off the map.
But it gets worse.
How could it get worse?
The president of a country about to go nuclear is a confirmed believer in the coming apocalypse.
That's how.
Like Judaism and Christianity, Shiite Islam has its own version of the messianic return -- the reappearance of the Twelfth Imam. The more devout believers in Iran pray at the Jamkaran mosque, which houses a well from which, some believe, he will emerge.

When Ahmadinejad unexpectedly won the presidential elections, he immediately gave $17 million of government funds to the shrine. Last month Ahmadinejad said publicly that the main mission of the Islamic Revolution is to pave the way for the reappearance of the Twelfth Imam.

And as in some versions of fundamentalist Christianity, the second coming will be accompanied by the usual trials and tribulations, death and destruction. Iranian journalist Hossein Bastani reported Ahmadinejad saying in official meetings that the hidden imam will reappear in two years.

So a Holocaust-denying, virulently anti-Semitic, aspiring genocidist, on the verge of acquiring weapons of the apocalypse, believes that the end is not only near but nearer than the next American presidential election.
Well, we can't say we weren't warned. How bad has it got to be before we at least publicise and take note of the problem?
It gets worse.
How could it? The guy would have to think he was some sort of divinely inspired instrument of God, to hear voices, for that.
After his U.N. speech in September, Ahmadinejad was caught on videotape telling a cleric that during the speech an aura, a halo, appeared around his head right on the podium of the General Assembly. "I felt the atmosphere suddenly change. And for those 27 or 28 minutes, the leaders of the world did not blink. . . . It seemed as if a hand was holding them there, and it opened their eyes to receive the message from the Islamic Republic."
OK, so he's certifiable. Yes, that's worse alright.

Bottom Line:
Negotiations to deny this certifiable lunatic genocidal weapons have been going nowhere. Everyone knows they will go nowhere. And no one will do anything about it.
So what can be done about it? What should be done about it?

We can, say, cross fingers and hope that "he really doesn't mean it". That didn't work so well with Osama Bin Laden or Adolf Hitler though. But it's worked so far with Kim Jong-Il. Apart from the kidnappings of foreign nationals, the attempts to kill the South Korean Cabinet, the drug-smuggling and so on, it's not as if the Dear Leader has actually nuked anyone. Yet.

We can hope that everything's been taken out of context, that there is no problem, it's all a media-manufactured fiction. The trouble with this is that there is just too much evidence against it. It's not the words of hostile propagandists that are of concern, its the words of the Iranian President himself, recorded on tape. And his Government's actions, of course. No, this one's not a goer.

We can wait and hope that saner heads will prevail, that the Iranian President doesn't really have the authority to authorise a Nuclear Strike. Given the support he has from the clerics and the judiciary (the same thing in Theocratic Iran), and the Revolutionary Guard (who have shown a historical penchant for ignoring inconvenient orders), then this is really a very chancy bet.

Or we can try waiting for the Iranian populace to rise En Masse and throw the bums out. But we may be facing a fairly tight deadline here, and the Revolutionary Guard aren't averse to picking up anyone vaguely suspected of being againt the regime and dealing with them summarily.

We can try International sanctions. No, stop laughing. OK, given the deadline, and the track record, this one doesn't pass the giggle test, scratch that one from contention. It's more likely that the Iranian President would suddenly become a Mormon.

We can try covert or semi-overt action. This may be happening right now, I certainly hope so, but the more successful it is, the less we'd know about it.

The remaining options are all military. From a "surgical strike" on the nuclear facilities (which unless 100% successful would make a 'probable' nuclear attack on Israel a certainty), to a full-scale Invasion, which would take years to prepare, and which lacks popular support, so is almost certainly not feasible.

The best that can reasonably be hoped for is that the IDF's anti-missile systems work better than expected, and that the Nuclear Warheads never detonate, and the Biologicals don't do too much harm to the Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians caught in the clouds. Hopefully then the world will act. But I wouldn't bet on it. The usual suspects would be talking about "ending a cycle of violence" or "it's not our concern, it would make us more of a target". Many would blame Bush, and say that any military action was as the result of his Fundamentalist Christian Apocalyptic vision of a post-nuclear Utopia.

You see, they're far too busy inventing concerns about President George Bush to notice the quite genuine problems with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Saturday, 17 December 2005

Friday, 16 December 2005

Tex Eats His Greens

Not so much "eating" as "chewing and spitting out".

Tex of Whacking Day has been having some fun with a new chew-toy.

You see, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away... OK, the Victorian state election in 2002... the Greens put up a rather, er, eccentric candidate called Thom Lyons.

Tex first got stuck in to TL's rather interesting views about the Worker's Paradise of Cuba, and what really happened during 9/11 back on 19th September.

Now TL didn't like that one little bit. He responded on USENET in the following eloquent terms :
Grow up fuckwit and leave the DLP. P stands for coward pussies by the way, the L stands for liars and the D for dumbass. Your 19th century view of life is duely noted

No its not nor is public property which your assholes hate. You seem to think any one thats not a corporation has no rights. SIG HEIL!
Tex has been known to vote for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) you see, so TL's confusion with the Democratic Labor Party which has been moribund for deceades is understandable, given his rather unique world-view.

Tex continued his merciless treatment of TL by just letting him speak for himself, only rarely condensing TL's rambles into something a bit more coherent, as in
And last of all, he claims that Christian political prisoner Dr. Oscar Biscet got thrown in prison because he is a CIA Miami Mafia Buddhist agent. No, I'm not making this up. Thom knows this because a Vietnamese priest told him so. Not only that, but it was the Catholic church, not Castro, who wanted him jailed.

Oh, and he also claimed North Korea isn't a communist society, but the Vatican is.

TL was at the peak of his eloquence and wit (not forgetting literacy) on the 9th of October :
your done here pufter pig

PISS OFF

DON't POST HERE AGAIN

Your an abusive moron with a mental problem.

piss off you degenerate freak.

Don'T post here again and stop lieing about communism you deranged moron.
And each time, Tex would add these words:
This was the man chosen by The Greens to be an election candidate.

So TL Called in the lawyers on November 3rd. And said this :
By the way, only morons have blogs. It shows a severe feeling of inadiquacy and self respect.
Well, that puts me in my place. Along with Glenn Reynolds, Tim Blair... before continuing with the usual unerring accuracy so characteristic of Gree candidates:
Oh by the way, I notice the host for your slanderous blog hasn't the balls to put an e-mail address up for complaints. Is he as big a chicken as you are?
In reply, Tex just linked to HostingMatters's website, where the complaints address abuse@hostmatters.com is quite visible. A quick look in Tex's "About" page will reveal the following:
Wanna know anything else, e-mail me: "tex {at} whackingday {dot} com"

After that, the action came thick and fast. But soon, the non-existence of the law firm TL claimed he'd hired (amongst many other inconsistencies) prompted Tex to speculate :
A thought just occurred to me: Thom couldn't have (gasp!) made all this up, could he?
TL replied with more threats, and complaints that he hadn't been able to track down the owners of Tex's site (hostingmatters, by the way, remember?).

On 10th November came the first implied physical threat of violence by TL.

TL revealed his Macho pro-gun credentials on the 13th, and denied he'd ever threatened legal action, along with this rather disturbing remark :
Why would I pay a lawyer to do man's job. They are the freaks that wear the womans wigs and dresses to work.
Now would be a good time to mention : I Am Not A Lawyer :)

More, increasingly desperate, attempts by TL to get Tex's address on the 17th, possibly so he could "so a man's job" with his gun?

On the 18th Tex reported this bizarre quote from TL :
Of course we hate Bush because we hate evil. The Bush crime family needs to be locked up to the man. They have been traitors since 1741 when they got here and were named Busche. By the way if you use GW's real name Busche and count the number of letters in each of his 3 names you get 6-6-6.

On the 23rd, Tex started a whole new front : examining TL's extravagant claims of his heroic war service. TL didn't like that, threatening all sorts of dire consequences from shadowy organisations. (And by the way, it's ECHELON not ESCHELON. Us shadowy organisational people know these things, as does anyone else with access to Wikipedia)

Tex examined TL's inconsistent stories, including claims of personal intervention by the Defence Minister of the time on his behalf, on 6th December, and made the following remark about TL's peculiar claims:
There may well be a kernel of truth in some or all of these, but I suspect there's a large pile of bullshit to be sorted through as well.

Don't you think if you could explain these things, you would? Yet, as usual, Thom's only responses are threats, ravings about 'mental illness', and outright lies.
The "Mental illness" being that of everyone else, not TL himself, of course.

On 7th December came news of TL's activities on USENET and elsewhere. Tex wrote:
...he's been sending an increasingly frantic series of e-mails to the folks at POWnetwork, who have filed a request for his records. Thom is claiming on USENET that he is having "discussions" with them, and that they are not carrying out any such check.

Problem for Thommy is that the good folks there have been notifying me of Thom's amusing correspondence. Thom wasn't aware of this, so has been caught out lying through his teeth yet again.
Ooops. "Oh what a tangled web we weave" etc etc.

When Tex actually did some checking into TL's claimed service with the RAAF, all he got was more threats, this time a complaint to the Victoria police. Interesting, and Tex, like me, lives in Canberra, a different state. The checks soon proved that TL had never served as an officer in the RAAF. Big Surprise that.

Tex published a summary of TL's various terminological inexactitudes, which had a predictable result. You see, when TL said "RAAF", the Royal Australian Air Force, because he was a dual US-Australian citizen (and why he was able to run as a candidate for a state election here), he now appears to say he meant the (British) Royal Air Force. It's all rather confusing really.
I did my Reserve time in Colorado and I was also in the Royal Air Force briefly as a flying officer. (thats the duel citizen stuff) My asthma was caused by exposure to Agent Orange in "Martin Manor" and other parts of "3 Corps". I was not allowed to have a RAAF career because of my physical problems.
Martin Manor? Tex checked that too.
According to the good folks at POWnetwork, 'Martin Manor' was the name of a washroom at Kontum, which from a quick glance at the map, is over two hundred miles from Tan Son Nhut, where Thom's records say he was stationed.

This is not a story about someone tormenting the mentally ill. You see, Thom Lyons is still a name to be conjured with in Green circles, quoted with admiration and credibility. And had Victorian electors voted "Green" often enough, he would be in a position of power right now.

It's the story of how one person, by "fact checking their asses", can show how pathological liars can easily get into political organisations famed for their gullibility and contempt for "mere facts", and lead them, and a trusting electorate, up the garden path.

So next time you vote Green - and some Green policies make a lot of sense - just make sure the person you're voting for doesn't believe in the International Zionazi Cosnpiracy to pollute our precious bodily fluids, OK?

Thursday, 15 December 2005

Geek Girls

Two Geek Girls, 22 years apart in age, but not in mind. Amber and her Aunt Zoe.



This one's for Chris and Amber.

When the changes started happening in May, one of my concerns was whether living in a male role for 47 years had warped my natural personality so much that I'd always be something not quite female, though certainly not male.

Fortunately I had a role model. My Niece. Now she's the archetypical Geek Girl, and always had been. At a time in her life that was very rough, one of the best things I ever managed to do was get her a top-of-the-line SoundBlaster card for her computer, and a few games, none of which were available in Australia yet. All at her request, she still knows a lot more about hardware than I ever will. Cheered her up no end.

Amber showed me that it's possible to be a Geek Girl, and still be completely Feminine. The male hormones I've had in my system have made major and permanent changes to my anatomy, my skeleton in particular, but not to my mind.

Both Amber and her partner Chris (who despite being a long-hair geek is a really nice guy) have both been terribly supportive when I needed it most. I just wanted to say "Thanks", and in public.

Wednesday, 14 December 2005

Fedsat Lives!

Today, I went to the Fedsat "Mission Accomplished" celebration. All 15 mission objectives complete, the last, 3 years of continuous operation, completed today.

It was also something of a wake. You see, the Co-operative Research Centre for Satellite Systems (CRCSS) didn't get funded in the 2003 funding round. That meant that it will be closing down in a matter of weeks, at the end of 2005. Australia doesn't have a Space Agency as such: the CRCSS, re-funded every few years as a commercial co-operative between Government and Industry was the closest thing we had. Had (past tense) being the operative word.

Co-operative Research Centres are funded on the basis of how likely they are to give a good commercial return on investment in the medium term - no longer than 5 years. With the success of Fedsat, mission was accomplished, so no need to re-fund.

*SIGH*

This is not the way to run a space programme.

So FedSat is still operational, still healthy, the Star Camera experiment being the only payload that suffered progressive failure (indicating that the University of 'Stellenbosch needs to do some more work on it). But no-one is listening any more, no funds for the ground station. FedSat was to be decommissioned today. Basically, turned off, while still 100% functional.



Zoe with the Engineering Model (minus the wiring) - click to enlarge


Fortunately... and this is a scoop.... the Australian Department of Defence realised that for a just a million dollars or so they could pick up a working satellite, filled with interesting and still state-of-the-art communications payloads. They've bought it, will continue to operate it, and make the purely scientific data available under the same conditions as before.

No formal announcement has been made yet, so you heard it here first. Fedsat Lives!

Monday, 12 December 2005

The Cronulla Mob


*Words and pictures by long-time Cronulla resident Benjamin Amy:*

I've just returned home after spending six hours watching the disgusting
afternoon unfold at Cronulla beach. I'm sending this to anyone that'll read
it.

I'd seen media reports in the lead up to today's "showdown," and never
believed it was actually going to happen. In particular I noticed on page
three of Saturday's *Herald* "A lesson in beach etiquette, Shire-style"
which featured a guy named Shaun – pictured with his Aussie flag singlet,
tattoos all over him and holding a long-neck of beer in a paper bag.

Shaun dislikes visitors he says are rude. "They look down on our women," he
says. I'd never seen anyone like that at Cronulla beach and thought the
paper had exaggerated the facts about how locals felt and what they were
planning to do. I was wrong. Cronulla today was filled with loud, pis*ed,
Shaun doppelgangers, all of them looking for a fight.

When I arrived at Cronulla at about midday the crowd was fairly calm, rowdy
and yobbo-ish, though not violent. The drinking had already started, there
were BBQs being cooked in the back of utes, John Williamson music was
blaring from car stereos and the "Wall" at North Cronulla was a sea of
Australian flags, Eureka Stockade flags and boxing kangaroos. Political
correctness had already been thrown aside, with some of the guys there
screaming "f*ck off Lebs" (there wasn't a 'Leb' to be seen) and "reclaim the
shire," and with comments like "we grew here, you flew here" and "Save
Nulla, F*ck Allah" painted on their chests.

What was most unbelievable, even more so than the overt racism, was the
number of people there... There were thousands and thousands of people. It
was like the harbour foreshore on New Year's Eve or Australia Day. Roads had
been closed and the empty space created was filled thick with people. It
wasn't just twenty-something males there, there were groups of girls and
women, packs of teenagers, entire families (I just cannot understand anyone
taking their kids to participate in something like this), bikies, neo-nazis
and surfers.

I saw a group of three well-dressed 40-ish women drinking Breezers standing
atop a retaining wall chanting at the police. I saw a group of four teenage
girls (typical tanned 'Northies' Shire-girls – long hair, short skirts and
massive sunglasses) being interviewed by ABC radio with 'Multiculturalism
Doesn't Work' stickers on their backs. I saw a fifty-year-old man wearing an
'Osama Don't Surf' t-shirt. I've never seen that many people in Cronulla
before.

About ten minutes after I got there I called a mate of mine to come down and
see what was actually happening before me – I seemed to be the only person
who was horrified about what was occurring. While I was on the phone I saw a
young Middle Eastern Australian kid walk through the carpark, about ten
metres away from me. I'd seen this kid on the news earlier this week
defending his right to swim at his local beach.

It wasn't long before he was being screamed at ("Leb c*nt", "Get off our
beach" etc) and surrounded by a group of flag draped p*ssed idiots. The kid
screamed back, fairly insistent on getting to the beach, for all of about
ten seconds before he was hit by one of them and had to turn and run across
the park toward Northies.

The crowd of people up the slope to the Wall had noticed what was happening
and all of a sudden it was on. The mob chased this kid into Northies,
straight through the traffic which was brought to a sudden standstill with
the now thousands of people surrounding the entry to Northies. Imagine a
group of thousands of people, and I really do mean thousands of people, all
chasing one kid into a pub and then standing outside screaming the most
hateful and violent trash talk, throwing bottles, jumping on cars containing
children that were stuck in the crowd.

The kid they were after was about 17 and would weigh in at a huge 60kg. I
could not believe my eyes that a lynching like this could happen anywhere,
let alone Cronulla beach.

This was a group of people that were thinking and moving as one, a true
"mob." Reason disappeared and the violently racist slurs and the bizarre
form of patriotism got worse. *Waltzing Matilda* was being screamed like a
war cry into the faces of police and Northies security guards. The crowd was
still on the street, stretching across the the Wall, but would move up the
Kingsway or down Eleoura Rd a bit if they thought there was a Leb to get.

We saw a group of three "wogs," two girls and a guy, all early twenties,
walking along the lower walkway of the Wall. The fact they'd managed to get
that far surprised me, but they didn't catch the attention of the mob until
they got very near the end of the Wall, about 20 metres from where the path
met the crowd. The abuse started, and then the crowd started to move toward
them. Thankfully there were a group of police close by who were able to get
them out safely, but it didn't stop the crowd following them out, screaming
in an absolute frenzy.

This was a crowd where almost every member was involved – there were hardly
any onlookers like my mates and myself, everyone was into it. I watched the
ABC news tonight and the reporter was asked whether locals were approving of
what had happened – he said the ones that were there were, though local
talkback callers through the day were appalled, he said.

It wasn't too long before a rumour started spreading that a train full of
Lebs was on its way to Cronulla (it was like an insane game of Chinese
Whispers, there were stories going through the crowd that Tom Ugly's and
Captain Cook Bridge had been closed, that the Bra Boys had arrived and that
the kiosk at North Cronulla was under siege because it was owned by Wogs),
so everyone was off to the station, via Cronulla Mall.

I can only imagine what it would have been like as a bystander in the Mall
with these idiots running through. By the time we got there, teenagers were
on the ground with pepper spray in their eyes, there were Nazis up trees
unfurling flags, more bottles being smashed and not a train full of Lebs to
be seen. Riot cops ended up pushing them all back until they were forced to
return to North Cronulla.

The irony of the situation didn't seem to be sinking into anyone's head
either. This all started last weekend when two lifeguards were bashed by a
Lebanese group of guys who apparently are aggressive, rude and disrespect
our women. Talkback radio has been filled all week with locals calling in
and saying so. I agreed with a lot of it, I'd seen these guys before and I'd
been intimidated by them. But what I saw today was far scarier than the Leb
guys could ever be. Behaviour far more more aggressive than any ethnic I've
ever seen. Rudeness?

Apparently Nando's had to be closed by police because two ethnic guys were
eating their lunch at a table inside when part of the mob arrived to scream
at them for doing so. Over the road at Macca's there were drunk guys on the
corner screaming the foulest of language down the mall. These are guys and
girls preventing ambulances from leaving.

This is a group of people happy to smash glass bottles in their own beach
sand! I saw a group of guys trying to get their footy out of one of the
Norfolk Pines by throwing beer bottles at it. As for "respecting our
women"... where's the respect in surrounding a teenage girl (Anglo and
alone) and harassing her from one end of the Wall to the other?

And I just got this off the *Herald's* coverage: "He could not comment on a
report that a girl of Middle Eastern appearance had been pushed over and was
kicked repeatedly as she lay on the ground." What the hell?!? The behaviour
today by the locals involved and all those with them was far worse than any
previous incident at Cronulla caused by a so-called ethnic outsider visiting
the area.

There were clearly a lot of non-locals involved. I think that once the text
message story got into the media it became a city-wide talking point and
made the numbers present today worse, attracting people who were either just
racist or just wanted a brawl. The sight of surfers and Romper-Stomper-like
neo-Nazis running together towards the next hopeful brawl is not one I'll
quickly forget.

But many locals were involved, and for the most part loving every minute of
it. There were plenty of units and apartments decked out in Aussie flags
with parties overflowing into the streets, proud to be a part of what was
just a disgusting day. How so many people could be getting pleasure from
this was just impossible to comprehend. It was part machismo bullsh*t and
part mob-mentality but it was mainly just ugly racism. It no longer had
anything at all to do with two lifeguards getting beaten up last weekend, it
was all just hatred towards a group of people who weren't even there.

The sight of the Australian flag being over-used like it was today was
embarrassing. Watching that crowd of thousands chase a single 17-year-old
was sickening. And to watch watch so many people think that what they were
doing was a good idea was just staggering.

It was the most shameful thing I've ever seen, no matter what happens next.



This from prominent Australian Sceptic, Fred Thornett

Let us not dodge the reality. Most British descended Australians do not like
"wogs", "spics", "slopes", "dagoes", "lebs", "powerpoints" and so on. And as
any Aborigine if he has ever experienced racism. What answer do you think you
will get? I believe that Australia is a racist country. Just like most others.

I do, however, agree with the rioters that multiculturalism is a failed concept.
It sounded lovely when proposed by the late Frank Galbally in his report to the
Federal Government. All the slightly leftish public servants felt that it was
not only a good thing, but that the "ethnics" would be grateful for the small
mercies we were about to bestow upon them. I know, I was on the implementation
committee.

My opinion which may not be widely shared by folk on this list is that we should
abandon the illusion of "multiculturalism". We should return to the policy of
our parents days. Immigrants were "New Australians". They were expected to
assimilate, not re-create the culture of their former homeland in Australia. In
the assimilation process they changed Australia forever, but we took only the
good things and absorbed them as we also changed. This process included obvious
things like altering forever the bland and boring "cuisine" that originated from
Britain and Ireland by including Italian, Greek, German, Polish, etc food into
our daily tucker. It also included less obvious things like gradually getting
soccer from being just kids, knock about game after school until we have now
accepted soccer as being a real sport fit for adult men to play. Who knows, in
fifty years we might become as good at it as we are at cricket. :-)

We should not continue to erect ethnic barriers between new immigrants and the
old Australian culture by pretending that multi-culturalism will be good for the
immigrants. I believe that multi-culturalism is very divisive and damaging to
our country. We should encourage assimilation. We will change a little and the
new immigrants will change a lot. This change will happen slowly and calmly
and Australia will be the better for it, just as we are the better for the
assimilation of a million or so post WW2 immigrants. Why we even managed to
assimilate lots of Poms. :-)

And as to the way in which ethnic differences can be exacerbated by religion:
forget Islam. Just think of the fights between the Catholics and the Protestants
which divided Australia for many decades up until say the 1950s...

I will not go on. I will wait to see if anyone else sees yesterday through the
same kind of spectacles as I do.
We skeptics tend to be drawn from the educated, middle-class, elite. Folks like
us rarely live in the outer suburbs - unless is a nice five acre block kind of
outer suburb. We also tend not to live in the nasty inner suburbs - unless the
area is being gentrified. We mostly live apart from most of the ordinary
working folk of Australia. The people who were involved in yesterday's
disgraceful riotous assembly will mostly live a long, long way from Sydney
harbour. Few of them will have degrees or even aspirations in that direction.
Few of them will think that Australia has been improved by the changing mix of
its immigrants since the 1970s. I think that one of the reasons why the ALP has
been losing support amongst its traditional working class base is because the
workers of Australia tend to be politically conservative. So, when faced by the
leftish leaning ALP of modern times, they have been voting for Mr Howard and his
mates because they are seen as being more conservative and preserving of the
traditional ways of Australia.

Still, I will be very interested to see if the recently enacted anti-terrorist
laws can be bent to meet what may well be a real threat to Australia. Virtually
everyone in the country knows that the anti-terrorist laws were intended to
target mostly Muslims. Yet the first real threat to public order in Australia
this century is coming from the racist mainstream, not the minority of Muslim
immigrants.

More, with a timeline, and 360 degree coverage at Tim Blair's.

He has the right idea :
Round ‘em up—all of them, from both sides—charge ‘em, convict ‘em, jail ‘em.
Well, yes. That's the Australian Way.

Saturday, 10 December 2005

Campaign for Nuclear DisArmament

From the CAD (Campaign for Air Disarmament) in 1936:
CAD opposes both the use of force against Germany and any acquisition of air force capabilities by Germany. Bellicose statements from the UK and Poland have not helped to defuse the situation; on the contrary, they have increased political posturing on both sides and have proven counterproductive in resolving the issues. Further threats of force are likely to only increase the national pride of many Germans, already provoked by continual demands outside the requirements of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, making a peaceful and lasting solution even more difficult to come by. The sources of many of the UK allegations against Germany relating to a air weapons programme are German dissidents and exiles. Given the dubious, and apparently completely false, information given to the UK by German exiles about Germany’s alleged "Luftwaffe", we fully expect a more responsible and respectful position to be taken by the UK in relation to Germany.
...
According to the Treaty of Paris, all nations have the right to a peaceful air programme, and CAD therefore respects Germany’s right to a peaceful civilian air programme. We strongly urge all countries that have not signed up to the Treaty of Paris to do so. This will help stabilise a region of the world where three air-armed countries, Poland, China and Manchukuo, have not signed the treaty. We also encourage all Air Weapons States to pursue negotiations in good faith towards aerial disarmament as required under Article VI of the Treaty.
Of course, that's fiction : but there were very many articles of the time in the same vein.

And we had many warnings. From Mein Kampf :
Hence, the German nation can defend its future only as a world power. For more than two thousand years the defense of our people's interests, as we should designate our more or less fortunate activity in the field of foreign affairs, was world history. We ourselves were witnesses to this fact: for the gigantic struggle of the nations in the years 1914-1918 was only the struggle of the German people for its existence on the globe, but we designated the type of event itself as a World War.
The German people entered this struggle as a supposed world power. I say here 'supposed,' for in reality it was none. If the German nation in 1914 had had a different relation between area and population, Germany would really have been a world power, and the War, aside from all other factors, could have been terminated favorably.
Germany today is no world power. Even if our momentary military impotence were overcome, we should no longer have any claim to this title. What can a formation, as miserable in its relation of population to area as the German Reich today, mean on this planet? In an era when the earth is gradually being divided up among states, some of which embrace almost entire continents, we cannot speak of a world power in connection with a formation whose political mother country is limited to the absurd area of five hundred thousand square kilometers.
Hitler's Apocalyptic worldview, that a war of conquest was a neccessary and inevitable consequence of 2,000 yesrs of struggle, should have been a warning to everyone.

Today's Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has a quite different attitude from it's predecessors of the 1930's.
CND opposes both the use of force against Iran and any acquisition of nuclear weapons capabilities by Iran. Bellicose statements from the US and Israel have not helped to defuse the situation; on the contrary, they have increased political posturing on both sides and have proven counterproductive in resolving the issues. Further threats of force are likely to only increase the national pride of many Iranians, already provoked by continual demands outside the requirements of the NPT, making a peaceful and lasting solution even more difficult to come by. The sources of many of the US allegations against Iran relating to a nuclear weapons programme are Iranian dissidents and exiles. Given the dubious, and apparently completely false, information given to the US by Iraqi exiles about Iraq’s alleged WMD capabilities, we fully expect a more responsible and respectful position to be taken by the US in relation to Iran.
...
According to the NPT, all nations have the right to a peaceful nuclear energy programme, and CND therefore respects Iran’s right to a peaceful civilian nuclear programme. We strongly urge all countries that have not signed up to the NPT to do so. This will help stabilise a region of the world where three nuclear-armed countries, Israel, Pakistan and India, have not signed the treaty. We also encourage all Nuclear Weapons States to pursue negotiations in good faith towards nuclear disarmament as required under Article VI of the NPT.
See the difference? And listen to what new Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadi-nejad has to say
We are in the process of a historical war between the World of Arrogance [the west] and the Islamic world, and this war has been going on for hundreds of years. The situation at the fronts has changed many times. During some periods, the Muslims were the victors and were very active and the World of Arrogance was in retreat . . . During the period of the past 100 years, the walls of the world of Islam were destroyed and the World of Arrogance turned the regime occupying Jerusalem into a bridge for its dominance over the Islamic world...
<sarcasm>No threat there, is there?</sarcasm>

Wednesday, 7 December 2005

Coffee and the Brain

Following on from the previous post, another piece of data from MRI that's contributing to the understanding of our brains and our minds. This from New Scientist :
Coffee improves short-term memory and speeds up reaction times by acting on the brain’s prefrontal cortex, according to a new study.

Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to determine how coffee activates different areas of the brain in 15 volunteers.

“"Caffeine modulates a higher brain function through its effects on distinct areas of the brain",” explains Florian Koppelstoetter, who carried out the research with colleagues at the Medical University at Innsbruck, Austria.
...
“The group all showed activation of the working memory part of the brain," Koppelstoetter explains. "But those who received caffeine had significantly greater activation in parts of the prefrontal lobe, known as the anterior cingulate and the anterior cingulate gyrus. These areas are involved in 'executive memory', attention, concentration, planning and monitoring."

“This type of memory is used when, for example, you look up a telephone number in a book and then mentally store it before dialling,” he adds.

Koppelstoetter stresses that the study is preliminary and that he has yet to discover how long the memory effects last or what other effects coffee has on brain function. He adds that the long-term impact of caffeine use is also an important consideration.

But he says the study shows that coffee has an effect on specific brain regions involved in memory and concentration that tallies with anecdotal evidence of the drink's “pick-me-up” effect.

Caffeine is known to influence adenosine receptors which are found throughout the brain on nerve cells and blood vessels. It is thought that the drug inhibits these receptors and that this excites the nerve cells in the brain. “This may be the mechanism involved,” suggests Koppelstoetter.

It is by will alone I set my mind in motion.
It is by the juice of Java that the thoughts acquire speed.
The hands acquire shaking.
The shaking becomes a warning.
It is by will alone I set my mind in motion.


See also The Mentat mantra

(Hat Tip: Fred Kiesche of The Eternal Golden Braid)

Brain and Body Image

MRI scanning technology is continuing to revolutionise our unserstanding of the brain, and the way our minds work.

This particular article was brought to my attention by Matt, of the great Science Blog EntirelyMadd. From The Guardian :
Scientists have identified the region of the brain that is responsible for the way people view their bodies. The parietal cortex generates the body image, and disruption of the region's normal functioning could play a role in conditions such as anorexia and body dysmorphic disorder, in which people grossly over- or underestimate their body size, researchers believe.

The researchers, led by Henrik Ehrsson, a neuroscientist at University College London, scanned volunteers' brains while carrying out an illusion that made them think their waists were shrinking.

Each of the 17 volunteers had a vibrating device attached to their wrist to stimulate a tendon, which created the false sensation that the wrist joint was flexing. When they placed their hand on any part of the body, the imaginary wrist movement made them think that part of the body was shrinking or growing.
...
"We found that a specific part of the parietal cortex was very active during the experiment," said Dr Ehrsson, whose study appears in the online journal Public Library of Science Biology. Volunteers who felt the strongest shrinking sensation showed the highest activity in this area of the brain. "It supports the idea that our brains compute our body size by integrating signals from the skin, muscles and joints, as well as visual cues," he said.

Other studies have shown that damage to the parietal cortex can make people feel their shape has changed.


Matt's blog has a hilarious but true article on the jargon used in scientific research papers, plus a lot of other goodies. Worth a regular visit.

Monday, 5 December 2005

Calling Professor Challenger...

From Objective Ministries :
Mission Statement

The goal of Project Pterosaur is to mount an expedition to locate and bring back to the United States living specimens of pterosaurs or their fertile eggs, which will be displayed in a Pterosaur Rookery that will be the center piece of the planned Fellowship Creation Science Museum and Research Institute (FCSMRI). Furthermore, the rookery facility will establish a breeding colony of pterosaurs in order to produce specimens that could then be put on display by other regional institutions or church groups.

By doing all this, we hope to accomplish three goals:
  1. Support Creation Theory by showing the incorrectness of the philosophy of Evolutionism.
  2. Educate the population about Creation Science.
  3. Create excitement about Creation and the Bible in the public.
I (Dr. Paley) am the founder and Chief Officer of the project. I will also be leading the expedition and acting as Science Liaison to the public. Funding is being provided by Fellowship University, the Fairlight Institute, and donations from wealthy Christian businessmen who wish to remain anonymous at this time.
...
While there are other extant creatures which Evolutionists claim have gone extinct long before man, they are not as ideal for our purposes as pterosaurs. Some of the alternatives are:
  • Apatosaurs: Still live in the jungles of the Congo. They are too large for our planned facilities (and especially for those of the church groups who would wish to borrow them) and breeding would be difficult given their presumably longer life cycle.
  • Plesiosaurs: Are reported living in many lakes and their carcasses have been found in the oceans by fishermen. However, they are notoriously difficult to find alive and would require a large and expensive aquatic facility to display them.
  • Trilobites: We know they still live in the oceanic depths from body parts that have been found washed ashore. They would require very expensive submersible vehicles and pressurized display tanks.
  • Velociraptors: Today terrorize the goat herders of Puerto Rico and are rumored to guard the remains of the Ark. They have become vicious since the Fall as the result of the effects of genetic entropy, making them too dangerous for the sort of interactive public experience we have in mind.
In comparison, pterosaurs are a blessing from the Lord: Many reported living species are of reasonable size, making housing and care affordable; although they've become carnivorous, they should be as trainable as the birds of prey commonly allowed to interact with zoo visitors during bird shows; their life cycle appears to be relatively short, making it easier to establish a productive breeding program; and finally, historical and modern reports of pterosaurs are much more common than any of the other Evolutionistically anomalous cryptids, suggesting that large populations are waiting to be revealed to our increasingly unbelieving world.
I applaud their attitude, and wish them well. Not many Creationists believe in Science, at least they're willing to try to find data.

Friday, 2 December 2005

Sex and the Brain Again

From Science Daily :
University of Alberta researchers say they've determined men and women utilize different parts of their brains while they perform the same tasks.

The study -- led by Emily Bell, a graduate student in psychiatry -- involved volunteers who performed memory tasks, verbal tasks, visual spatial tasks and simple motor tasks while their brain activity was monitored with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging technology.

"The results jumped out at us," said Bell, "Sometimes males and females would perform the same tasks and show different brain activation, and sometimes they would perform different tasks and show the same brain activation."

Dr. Peter Silverstone -- a UA psychiatrist and an author of the study -- said: "It is widely recognized there are differences between males and females, but finding different regions of the brain are activated in men and women in response to the same task has large potential implications for a variety of different clinical situations.

"The larger implications of this work, as well as other work pointing in the same direction, is that we may increasingly find out that there are differences in the 'hard wiring' of male and female brains."
Now all we have to do is convince 90% of psychiatrists, the Catholic Church, and a few others, like the States of Texas and Tennessee.

Two Vaccines

From As I Please :
Recent news about the avian flu virus has raised concerns from main street to the White House. There is the possibility, even likelihood, that the virus will mutate into a form that can more easily infect humans.

As the president pointed out, a vaccine cannot be made until this evolution occurs.

This raises the concern that it may be impossible to create enough vaccine fast enough to protect all our citizens. But there is hope.

Gallup polls tell us that up to 45 percent of Americans don't believe in evolution. Since random mutation is the engine of evolution, these same people must believe that the virus cannot mutate.

Therefore, there is no need to waste vaccine on folks who believe there is no possible threat to themselves -- thus leaving a sufficient supply for the rest of us. Perhaps the president, given his doubts about evolution, may wish to demonstrate his leadership by foregoing vaccination.

And from Multiple Mentality :
A cervical cancer vaccine has been discovered. But social conservatives worry that it could increase teen sex.

Weakest. Argument. Ever.

Because the vaccine protects against a sexually transmitted virus, many conservatives oppose making it mandatory, citing fears that it could send a subtle message condoning sexual activity before marriage. Several leading groups that promote abstinence are meeting this week to formulate official policies on the vaccine.
I was unaware that cervical cancer was an STD. Fortunately, there’s an explanation:
The vaccine protects women against strains of a ubiquitous germ called the human papilloma virus. Although many strains of the virus are innocuous, some can cause cancerous lesions on the cervix (the outer end of the uterus), making them the primary cause of this cancer in the United States. Cervical cancer strikes more than 10,000 U.S. women each year, killing more than 3,700.

The vaccine appears to be virtually 100 percent effective against two of the most common cancer-causing HPV strains. Merck, whose vaccine is further along, plans to ask the Food and Drug Administration by the end of the year for approval to sell the shots.
So it doesn’t actually protect you from HPV, but it ensures that if you get HPV, you won’t get cancer from it. At least, that’s how I’m reading it.

This sort of thing is why I often have to hold my nose when labeling myself conservative. It’s a vaccination that could save lives, and doesn’t appear to have life-threatening side effects. Its social implications should remain at the bottom of the concern list, not near the top.
It's not just leftists who sometimes find those they're amongst a bit on the morally bankrupt side, or just plain ignorant.